Penetration Angst – a good, eye-catching title for a no-budget black comedy made in 2003 but mainlining the vibe of the 1980s video nasty. It was called just plain old Angst in the USA, which is their loss.
It’s the strange and convoluted story of a girl called Helen (Fiona Horsey) who, as well as having all the usual problems associated with newly arriving womanhood also has an unruly vagina, one frequently weaponising itself against aggressively horny guys. And since Helen is an attractive young woman, men are forming an orderly and disorderly queue for her, unaware of what awaits them.
Men like Jack (Philip Hayden), a laddish boy racer in the provincial town where Helen lives, who is so desperate to have sex with her that he jams her in the wind-up passenger window of his car and tries to take her from behind. Jack is soon reduced to a pile of empty clothes and nothing more. The vagina has claimed its first onscreen victim.
Later, Helen goes to a gynaecologist (James Crichton), to voice her concerns about what’s going on “down there”. He ends up as Helen’s second victim after trying out some procedures not in his medical training. Helen wakes up and there is a used condom between her legs, the doctor’s clothes are in a crumpled heap on the floor and the man himself is gone.
All the men in this film are all like this, except for Dennis (Paul Conway). This woebegone cyclist, poetry geek and lover of arthouse movies sees Helen not as a whore but as his virgin on a pedestal.
In bad news for the drippy Dennis, after Helen’s quick one-two knockouts with Jack and the doctor, she decides to leave town. She heads to Soho in London, where this chaste creature has soon become a whore. Dennis follows her, and in scrappy plotting that’s more like life than art, instead of catching up with Helen he accidentally gets to know Silvia and Sonia (Beth and Amy Steel), a pair of conjoined twins. The fact that Dennis comes across as a stalker and creep doesn’t seem to bother Silvia, who falls for him, and he for her (so much for being headlong over Helen) and in some of the film’s funniest and icky scenes, Dennis tries to negotiate normal human relations with Silvia while Sonia (who rightly can’t stand him) makes snide comments about his performance from Silvia’s conjoined left hand side. Everyone’s a critic.
At first glance, Teeth, Mitchell Lichtenstein’s film about a girl with a murderous vagina, would seem to be the most obvious reference point for Penetration Angst but German writer/director Wolfgang Büld got there four years before Teeth was made, and got its use of the phrase “vagina dentata” in first too.
It’s the conjoined twins that offer the better clue as to where Büld is coming from. He seems to have internalised the workings of Frank Henenlotter’s 1982 classic of low-budget nastiness, Basket Case, and reworked the “one man and his conjoined twin (in a basket)” plot, using as inspiration a lurid newspaper story about conjoined-twin young women with wildly different attitudes to life (one likes to get drunk and fuck; the other doesn’t). On top of that he tries to do for Soho, not as gentrified then as now, what Henenlotter did for New York in Basket case, painting it as seedy, sleazy, where operating in the dark underbelly isn’t so much titillating as a chore.
It’s an energetic soup of wonky production design, garish lighting, special effects of a very basic sort and ambient sound loud in the mix. Some things in it probably shouldn’t be there. Paul Conway’s acting is shocking early on, but he improves as the film goes on and eventually becomes an almost touching, if still irritating and silly, saviour figure. The “twins”, Beth and Amy Steel, have the measure of what the film is about, as does the excellent Fiona Horsey as the frequently undressed but more often touchingly confused Helen.
It all starts to fall apart towards the end, when new plotlines and characters are introduced, Helen gets married and goes on her honeymoon with her husband (a sleaze who is sniffing her panties while she is having a fitting for her wedding dress, comedy fans), and Büld throws in couple of cock shots in an attempt to fend of accusations of sexism.
There is fun to be had, though beneath it all operates the logic of many a sexploitation movie – that men can’t help themselves; that women are no better than they ought to be. For all “cock” and “pussy” talk, there’s more than a touch of prudishness about the whole thing.
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